Attorney who fought payments disbarred, jailed

An attorney who spent years fighting against the practice of counties making additional payments to judges has suffered disbarment and been thrown in jail over the last several weeks. Richard Fine, 69, claims that his legal problems stem from his crusade against the practice. But the Los Angeles Superior Court and the plaintiff’s attorney at the center of the Sturgeon case say they aren’t related.

Fine is a real estate attorney who has raised objections to “local judicial payments” in several cases. Last May, he sued the California Bar Association, according to attorney Gary Zerman, who has staged several small protests demanding Fine’s release. Fine has repeatedly argued that these payments violate the state and U.S. Constitutions, including citizens’ “implied right to honest services” from elected officials.

“He was one of the first to discover this,” Zerman said.

Fine claimed not only that judges might have to repay the money they had received, but that any judges who took the payments could be forced to leave the bench and any rulings they had handed down could be invalidated.

“They either have to resign or be impeached,” Fine said.

Fine has argued that the Los Angeles judges have never ruled against the County of Los Angeles in court since the payments began. Many of his legal problems appear to stem from a real estate case, Marina Tenants Association vs. Los Angeles County, and the judge in that case, David Yaffe, who he claims has retaliated against him for trying to draw attention the payments issue.

He was disbarred on Feb. 11 and arrested on March 9. Zerman said the court has a vendetta against him seeking to draw attention away from the fact that they’re maintaining the judicial payments at a time when “L.A. county is shutting down court rooms, laying off court staff and increasing court fees.”

Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Alan Parachini said the Marina case was “unrelated.” The disbarment proceedings had been going on for months. Fine, he said, was then held in contempt of court for practicing law without a license for attempting to continue the case after his disbarment and for refusing to answer a judge’s questions as part of a debtor’s examination on money he owes.

The plaintiff’s attorney in the Sturgeon case, Sterling Norris, praised Fine’s work in publicizing the payments issue. But Norris noted that Fine was not involved in the Sturgeon case. He declined to say whether Fine’s activism had anything to do with his current legal issues.

“He’s got substantial other problems,” Norris said. “I feel badly for him.”

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